The Senkaku dispute is likely to drag on for a long time, the commandant of the Japan Coast Guard said Thursday, stressing the need for more manpower and better equipment to deal with the increasing confrontations with China.

“The Chinese side has publicly declared that the current state of affairs will be normalized. So we have to take measures to be prepared and to respond to that situation over the long term,” Commandant Takashi Kitamura said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. “But the reality is that we only have a limited number of vessels to monitor the areas around the Senkakus.”

Kitamura’s comments came a day after four Chinese surveillance vessels were spotted in Japan’s territorial waters around the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea on Thursday. Such forays have been common since Japan bought three of the islets in September from their Saitama-based owner, effectively nationalizing the chain, which Japan first claimed in 1895.

China, which has only in recent decades laid claim to the islets, calls them Diaoyu.

Thursday’s incursion near the Japan-administered islets was the third in as many days and the 17th since September.

After a coast guard vessel ordered the Chinese ships to leave via radio, one of said in Chinese that the islets have been Chinese territory “since ancient times,” according to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.

In recent weeks, about five Chinese vessels a day have been loitering near the islets and entering Japanese waters once or twice a week, Kitamura said.

Although the coast guard’s 11th regional unit is in charge of the Senkaku area, which is also claimed by Taiwan, it doesn’t have enough vessels to deal with the situation, he said. The JCG is covering the shortage by borrowing from other units, he said.

Kitamura said it takes more than three years to build a heavy-duty ship with a displacement of over 1,000 tons — the type needed for the Senkakus — and hopes 10 vessels set to be decommissioned in fiscal 2013 and 2014 will be refurbished instead.

In April, the JCG had 357 patrol vessels, with 51 over 1,000 tons in displacement.

Information from Kyodo added

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